House Passes Joint Physical Care Legislation

On Tuesday, the House passed HF 345 by a vote of 68-26 (6 absent). House File 345 is also known as the Joint Physical Care Bill. Passage of this bill opens the door for both parents to be more active in their children’s lives if a divorce happens.

Representative Julian Garrett (District 73) managed HF 345 on the house floor. The Joint Physical Care Bill amends Iowa Code §598.41(5)(a), which addresses what happens in situations of joint legal custody. With the passage of HF 345, if joint legal custody has been awarded, the court may award joint physical care to both parents as well. This legislation creates a rebuttable presumption that joint physical care is in the best interest of the child. A rebuttable presumption is an assumption made by a court that is assumed true, and it is up to the opposing party to prove it false. In a case where joint legal custody is awarded, the court will assume that joint physical care is in the best interest of the child unless one party demonstrates that it is not in the best interest of the child by clear and convincing evidence.

In custody cases a judge may award joint legal custody to both parents. Joint legal custody means parents have “equal participation in decisions affecting the child’s legal status, medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religious instruction” in addition to other issues that may arise. Even if the court awards joint legal custody, until HF 345, the court did not have to presume that joint physical care was in the best interest of the child. Joint physical care is when each parent shares in the physical custody of the child. This helps to ensure that the child spends quality time with both parents and that one is not favored over the other. When joint physical care is awarded the parents sit down and write out a joint physical care parenting plan to help each side address issues that may arise.

The passage of HF 345 does not mean the court will automatically award joint legal custody, but if the judge determines that joint legal custody is right for all parties involved then the court will look to award joint physical care, unless either parent can prove that it is not in the best interest of the child. HF 345 helps ensure that both parents have an opportunity to have a close relationship with the child, even in cases of divorce.